You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

NZ News Top Stories

'Gut wrenching': Aussie Facebook page with 2.6m likes taken down

Sydney Morning Herald logoSydney Morning Herald 12/07/2018 Adam Turner
The FILHAB store on Facebook, which has been limited without explanation. © Supplied The FILHAB store on Facebook, which has been limited without explanation.

When her Facebook page with more than 2.6 million likes and more than 2.6 million followers was banned without warning, Australian social media queen Jo was left wondering what she had done to incur the wrath of the Silicon Valley giant.

A stay-at-home mother of six children, Jo founded "F--- it: Let's have a beer" six years ago; building up an international following through posting irreverent and expletive-filled drinking-related memes. FILHAB has grown to become one of Australia's most popular humorous Facebook pages, offering an income for Jo through the sale of merchandise.

All that changed at the end of June when Facebook unpublished the FILHAB page without warning. The only explanation offered was a notification in the Facebook smartphone app:

"Your page has been unpublished: It looks like recent activity on your Page doesn't follow Facebook Pages Terms. If you think your Page was unpublished in error, you can appeal and we'll take another look."

The Facebook page 'F--- it, lets have a beer' is one of Australia's most popular humour pages on the site. © Supplied The Facebook page 'F--- it, lets have a beer' is one of Australia's most popular humour pages on the site.

Jo spent several fruitless days chasing Facebook for details as to how FILHAB had broken the rules and what it would take to get the page restored.

"I poured my heart and soul into that page for six years and then one Friday it just disappeared," Jo tells Fairfax Media.

"It was gut wrenching, I hit every brick wall possible trying to get some answers."

The smoking gun

After Fairfax contacted Facebook Australia on Jo's behalf, it appeared to be an open-and-shut case of posting prohibited content, even allowing for FILHAB's 21+ age restriction.

Facebook confirmed that the use of profanity in the page name was not the issue. Instead, FILHAB was taken down after several "instances of significant concern" over a three-month period; including publishing "adult content", "hate speech" and "promotion of regulated goods".

Facebook produced screenshots of pornographic posts published by Jo and another page administrator, insisting that Jo would have been sent a series of escalating email warnings before the page was finally taken down. While many of FILHAB's posts are crude, the posts in question — seen by Fairfax — are clearly out of character with the rest of the page's content.

"I felt physically ill at this point," Jo says. "I would never post porn and I certainly didn't receive any warnings from Facebook about it or I would have done something."

FILHAB was granted a reprieve following Fairfax's enquiries, but not because Facebook believed the page was hacked. Hackers who wrestle control of accounts and pages generally lock out the owners, according to a Facebook Australia spokesperson, and Jo was still in control of her account, her email address, and FILHAB.

Instead, an internal Facebook review restored the page after determining that one of the offending posts wasn't quite vile enough to count as a strike against the page's reputation.

Facebook's hair-trigger banning and reinstatement of the page comes at a time when social media platforms are under unprecedented pressure to clean up their acts. Facebook is spending big advertising its anti-fake-news agenda while it faces ongoing grilling about profits from state-sponsored posts, while Twitter has wiped out millions of accounts in its attempts to crack down on bots and trolls.

As this article is published, Facebook is still refusing to return Jo's branded content tool, thus preventing her selling FILHAB merchandise via other Facebook pages, or selling third-party merchandise via FILHAB. The Facebook notification insists "it's our policy not to discuss the standards we use in evaluating accounts for access to the branded content tool".

"I feel like six years of hard work was just ripped from me," Jo says.

"They can truly do as they please with no consequences, they don’t have to explain anything to anyone."

Security overhaul

Acknowledging that her Facebook security precautions had previously been inadequate, Jo set about untangling the mystery which had seen her page of more than 2.6 million followers taken offline for more than a week. Left unchecked, the unexplained offending posts could see her lose the page permanently.

Fearing that her Facebook account had been hacked in order to access the page, Jo changed her password and enabled two-factor authentication. She did the same with her email account, in case hackers had taken control of her inbox and deleted the Facebook notifications which would have warned her that the page was in danger.

After Jo changed her Facebook password she received bogus two-factor SMS alerts and Facebook messages, claiming to be from Facebook, which appeared to be attempts to hack her account.

FILHAB relies on a large number of administrators, each of whom should have received email warnings before the page was unpublished. None did, they say, nor did they see any of the offending posts or receive reports from the page's large community of followers.

Facebook has pointed to FILHAB's reliance on many page administrators as a security threat and recommended Jo cull this to an absolute minimum, which she has done.

FILHAB's administrator group included several dummy accounts, in breach of Facebook's terms and conditions, which Jo says were set up due to Facebook's unpredictability when it comes to banning accounts over poorly explained infractions of the rules. At one point every FILHAB page administrator and editor received a simultaneous 30-day posting ban over the page's profile picture, which did not seem to violate Facebook's policies and is still in use on the page.

The use of dummy accounts may have contributed to the flagging of the page, according to Facebook, and Jo has closed those accounts.

Digging for answers

Delving into FILHAB's admin pages raised more questions than answers. Jo discovered that one administrator had been posting affiliate marketing links to make money — a clear breach of Facebook policies — and then using the admin tools to hide these posts.

This rogue administrator has been removed from the page but does not seem a likely suspect for the pornographic posts, as the closure of FILHAB would put a stop to their surreptitious money-making. Also, this administrator could not have posted pornography under Jo's name, unless they had also hacked Jo's Facebook account.

At this point Jo's most plausible explanation of events is that someone with a grudge against FILHAB quietly hacked the Facebook accounts of several administrators, including her own, in order to run an ongoing smear campaign; posting content that would force Facebook to take down the page.

In this scenario, attackers would have posted pornographic content, reported it to Facebook and then used admin tools to hide the posts even from other administrators. Facebook has declined requests to investigate this possibility. Regardless, this theory does not explain why none of the page administrators received alerts before FILHAB was taken offline, something which neither Jo or Facebook can explain.

Looking for an explanation

Jo acknowledges that her security wasn't up to scratch but is still frustrated with Facebook's response and at being "fobbed off by an algorithm" until she contacted the media.

"I am interested in knowing what department at Facebook oversees these particular actions," Jo says.

"I'd like to know why a person who has spent several years building their brand through interaction with fans on their page — with such a degree of success that those fans number in the millions — and a person who has spent hundreds of dollars on advertising, should not be given an opportunity to address an actual person when their livelihood disintegrates with no explanation."

While declining to comment publicly on Jo's case, a Facebook Australia spokesperson assisted with the investigation and offered advice for Facebook users looking to secure their accounts and pages.

The first step is to choose a strong password, which you haven't used elsewhere or shared with anyone, and then look to Facebook's security menus.

"You can choose from lots of easy-to-use security tools on Facebook to add an extra layer of security to your account,'" the spokesperson says. "It only takes a few minutes to run our Security Checkup and make sure you're using all the security features you want."

"You can also enable two-factor authentication, which means you'll enter a code along with your password when you log in from a device or browser you haven't used before. And if you have a security key for your USB drive, you can use it to log in to Facebook and make it practically immune to phishing."

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon